NEWCASTLE Falcons have made no secret of their desire to add style to the substance of a game which has got them to the top of the Championship, but will not compromise their winning edge in pursuit of aesthetical beauty.
Director of rugby Dean Richards has spoken repeatedly of his wish to quicken the pulse at Kingston Park, minimising boot-on-ball tendencies and cutting loose in attack.
Within that framework, however, remains the glaring necessity to keep on getting results – not an easy circle to square in the midst of an English winter.
“It is important to just carry on winning,” said Richards, whose side enjoyed a weekend without a game following the postponement of Saturday’s British and Irish Cup tie at Welsh club Cross Keys.
“I can remember after a couple of our league titles at Leicester being sat with some of the boys who were saying we didn’t play well for two thirds of the season, but we still managed to win the thing.”
Balancing rugby that produces results with rugby that draws crowds has long been an equation Newcastle have struggled with.
Under Alan Tait they had all the expansive intent in the world but not the players to execute it, while Gary Gold’s five-month stint delivered improved results by virtue of an unapologetically conservative game plan. Richards, to date, seems to have met somewhere in the middle, stating: “Winning games and ultimately tournaments remains the most important thing.
“Yes, the style and precision are important in terms of people buying into it and making it happen, and understanding how to make it happen.
“From time to time we have struggled a little with that, partly because of opposition defences and how people react to that.
“You tend to find in the Championship and the British and Irish Cup that the holes often appear where you don’t expect them to, and likewise defenders appear where you wouldn’t normally anticipate them being.
“It throws our boys every now and again, and adapting to things like that is an ongoing challenge.”
It is a challenge they are rising to from a results perspective, their last defeat of any kind being a pre-season visit to Heineken Cup finalists Ulster in August.
Since then 19 opponents have tried and failed to halt the momentum, with 13 league outings, five cup ties and even a midweek match against the Tongan national side seeing the Championship leaders yet to find themselves on the wrong end of a result.
League matters will now come more into view as they prepare to host Cornish Pirates on Friday, all building up towards the promotion play-offs in May.
“The season is starting to take focus now, and every game is a meaningful test,” Richards said. “Every single weekend your focus is heightened that little bit further, and even playing for a home quarter-final in the British and Irish Cup against Cross Keys is something different and a challenge we need to rise to.
“Cornish Pirates this week is another tough fixture, and the Bedfords and Leeds of this world are all on our schedule.
“Every one of those tests will give us a greater understanding of where we stand in the pecking order, and hopefully we will be right up there at the top.”
Aiming to add an edge of invincibility by going through the season without being toppled at all, the four-time Premiership and double Heineken Cup winner has the taste for silverware once more.
“The aim is to get all the way through until the end of May without losing a game,” he said – a comment borne of confidence rather than arrogance in a division where his side have been streets ahead of the pack virtually from week one.
“It is going to be hard, but I am looking forward to it.”